Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Joy of Oysters: Joysters!

Recently returned from a 2,600 mile driving vacation throughout the southeast of the United States: Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.  Long drive, visited several old friends we hadn't seen in years, and ate as much local seafood as we could.  We were particularly anxious to try oysters as frequently as possible, as good oysters cannot be found in our home state.  And where do you suppose the best oysters of the week were to be found?  In a nice local restaurant in teeny, tiny Darien, Georgia.

Darien is a little 2-mile strip of land just north of Jacksonville, Florida, maybe an hour south of Savannah.  It's 2 miles off I-95 and we decided to make the 2 mile drive into town because Wendy's  or Burger King would just not satisfy!
Image result for DARIEn, Georgia

As my darlingest filled the gas tank, I quickly searched for local eateries.  Skipper's Fish Camp came up, had decent reviews, and their menu boasted two of my southern food favorites:  oysters (fresh) and Brunswick Stew.  We decided to drive into town to try it out. 

One of our criteria when finding restaurants out of our home locale is number of cars in the parking lot.  We drove by one dumpy little restaurant that had a completely filled up parking lot.  We resisted the temptation to stop, but agreed if Skipper's was a bust, we would come back to that one.

We got to Skipper's, drove by it actually and had to turn around.  It was situated right on the Altamaha River, with an old fishing boat that appeared to be permanently anchored a few feet from the end of their deck.

We settled in our seats and ordered:  sweet tea, oysters, Brunswick Stew and salad with fresh-caught blackened Snapper.  Looking around at the other guests, this place was clearly for the locals.  Filled with business people on their lunch break, a couple of cable guys, a large group of friends, and one elderly woman who seemed to know everyone in the place.  Not really sure she was there to eat, she just socialized the entire time we were there.  We had definitely come to the right place!

The anticipation of Georgia oysters, well, I really didn't know what to expect.  We had oysters the night before in Jacksonville, Florida, and were sorely disappointed.  Tiny little nubs of flesh, barely able to fill a teaspoon, they were not what we had come to expect from Florida oysters.  We had less enthusiasm for Georgia, but we were here, and they were on the menu.  Had to try them.

The waitress brought them quickly.  Six beautiful fresh oysters and the accompanying hot sauce, no horseradish here.  Apparently in Darien, fresh, chilled oysters are served with saltine crackers and hot sauce.  That first oyster was so sweet, so fresh, so briny and so big.  It was easily three times the size of the Florida oysters, and much more satisfying.  Oyster, cracker with hot sauce, sip of ice cold sweet tea.  Oysters as big as your palm, and each one equally delicious.  We consciously slowed our speed of eating....
Only one more thing to add.  The salad.
Bon appetit!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas To All

Merry Christmas to all my readers this year.  May your glass be full and your gifts exchangeable.
And if you aren't drinking wine by a cozy fire this afternoon or evening, here is something you can do with your unused wine glasses.

I haven't blogged as frequently as I would have liked this year.  I have been too busy working, traveling the world and moving a household.  Next year will certainly bring additional changes, and with them, additional opportunities to write about food and wine.  I hope you will stick with me.

And so, as some of us will be spending time with various members of various parts of various families, just remember, the holidays will be fine as long as there's wine.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tano is a No-No

Friday night date night once again.  Decided to try a new restaurant in historic Loveland, new to us and relatively new to Loveland.   Called Tano, it had been written up in the Cincinnati Enquirer and made to sound amazing.  They gushed over the food and ambiance, touting it as the hot new happening dining spot.  Perfect for a person like me, amazing. 
First view, a maître 'd just inside the entrance, asking us the proverbial, "do you have a reservation?"  We did at six but forgot to come on time.  Oops.  However, we got here at seven and the place was about half-full.  They seated us at a deuce by the kitchen door (we found out later, as people traipsed by, the restrooms were also located behind the door leading to the kitchen.  Weird.)
We began with oysters on the half-shell.  Five for $ten.  Such a deal, right?  And they were flown in all the way from Connecticut.  They were perfectly chilled, absolutely fresh and a real delight, after so many months of an oyster-free culinary existence.  The cocktail sauce was right out of a bottle, and not a very good one.  No zing, no pizzazz, a breath away from Heinz ketchup.  Very disappointing.  But that's ok, the entrée will amaze!  Right?  The Cincinnati Enquirer said so!
Having started with oysters and a very delightful glass of Malbec, I ordered the scallops.  Described as "chipotle linguini, spinach, rock shrimp, tomatoes, champagne beurre blanc", it sounded delicious.  Yes please!
You can see by the photo that indeed, the plate did contain all the requisite items as outlined on their menu.  Unfortunately, there was also a little bait and switch going on.  Not bait and switch in its pure form, yes, those are scallops, and yes, those are rock shrimp.  But, have you ever ordered scallops as an entrée and only received THREE puny, overcooked scallops?  Me neither, until this night.  The rock shrimp were mighty shrimpy as well, all five of them.  Three snuggled together atop the linguine, trying to convince me of their massive shrimpiness!  Keeping company with the shrimp and three puny scallops was the full plate of slimy, oily, over-buttered linguine.  And let us not give short shrift to the three strands of deflated spinach.  All in all, the appearance hinted at the less than stellar dining experience to come.

Others have raved about Tano, I will not.  First time and neither I nor my companion was impressed.  No reservation = table by the kitchen/bathroom.  Ok, next time, we will make a reservation.
Portion size was fine, but for the entrée that arrived, it should have been priced around $24, not $27.  We are in a suburb of Cincinnati, not downtown!  Not only that, the scallops were small and without flavor, the shrimpy shrimp tasted like they came out of the bag of Kroger shrimp I keep in my freezer.
The Chipotle linguine was an interesting concept, the heat came through in a mild undertone, but the oiliness of the linguine overwhelmed in the end.  It was truly disgusting to look at, and to eat.
My dining companion ordered their special of the night, Fluke.  Right, Fluke?  First of all, to the uninitiated, it is a white, mild-flavored fish.  The waitress told us everything she knew about it.  That was pretty much it.  So I quickly googled it.  Fluke is a relative of the flounder and is often called the Summer Flounder to distinguish it from the standard, Atlantic Flounder.  (Who would be able to know the difference?  Maybe other Flukes and Flounders.)  I took a taste of the Fluke.  It was beautifully presented on a bed of mashed garlic potatoes, surrounded by a moat of roasted corn off the cob.  The Fluke was lightly dusted in batter, then sautéed in butter.  should have been at least tolerable, but the fish itself was not a tasty consistency.  It was dry, but not flaky, dry, but not full-bodied.  Just dry.  Just unpleasant, almost as though it had spent time in someone's freezer, in 1972.  It tasted just ok, but overall - a fail.  Garlic mashed potatoes were perfect, but hey, even Bob Evans has that dish nailed.  the "fresh off the cob" corn had a spicy blend of chiles and peppers with popped against the fresh corn taste.  Sadly, it was the best part of both meals.
Will we go again?  Yes.  I don't like to judge a restaurant on just one meal (or in this case, two meals).  But next time I will try a meat or veggie dish.  Will keep you posted!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fly the Friendly Skies

Whether you fly the friendly skies (with United) or go with Delta, because "they're ready when you are", there is no denying that airline food has moved up the food chain since the 1970's.  (Airline trivia from 1970's:  In 1970, the Boeing 747 made it's first commercial passenger trip to London.  Some other time in the 1970's I took my first airline trip to Orlando, Florida and experienced airline food for the first time.  I believe it was a cheese sandwich of sorts, cut triangularly into halves, and wrapped in cellophane.)

United Airlines established the first kitchens for preparing airline food n 1936.  By 1958, it had grown to such importance that Pan Am and several European airlines got into a legal dispute over whether or not certain airline sandwiches constituted a meal.  (In case it wasn't decided correctly, let me go ahead an render a verdict:  no, they do not.)

Kulula Airlines, a S. African airline company, had the good sense to refrain from sharing food during the in-country flight.  I did have a refreshing Coke Light though.

And so I will leave you with images of what several airlines consider a meal on overseas flights.

This was a not so delightful pork, rice and greens meal from United.  It included a cold sweet potato salad (to the best of my ability to identify that food product), fruit, a days-old roll and a processed brownie.

Moving on to S. Africa.... I appreciate that Delta incorporates food that appeals to the locals of the destination.  This meal included a warm pocket filled with some sketchy, but spicy meat product, cold couscous salad, fruit, water and a Milano cookie from Pepperidge Farms.  I made the mistake of eating the meat pocket.  The guts included curried potatoes and meat, with a strong serving of garlic.  Lived with it all day.  The couscous was very good.  I believe it included guava, which is a favorite fruit for many S. Africans.
Delta served this curried chicken dish on the return flight from Johannesburg, S. Africa to Atlanta, GA.  It was one of the few times I saw vegetables in  meal for more than a week!  The meal included grilled squash (which wasn't bad, considering), a semi-mash of curried chicken and rice, a salad consisting of two pieces of lettuce, two slices of cuke, and couple of shredded carrots.  You can also see the brownie and roll.  Have to admit, couldn't touch that brownie.

And yet, one more delightfully overcooked mash of food products from Delta.  This was from a flight to Germany, and included a chicken and rice product, hard roll, salad, and for a change of pace a blondie instead of a brownie.  The Sudoku was a "bonus".

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How Much Wine is That?

One standard acre of grapevines

= between 700 and 1,300 vines
Will produce about 5 tons of grapes
=3,985 bottles of wine
=797 gallons of wine
=15,940 glasses of wine
=13.5 barrels of wine

One barrel of wine

=1,180 glasses of wine
=24.6 cases of wine

One Case of Wine

=30 pounds of grapes
=48 glasses of wine
=12 bottles of wine

One bottle of wine

=2.4 pounds of grapes
=4 glasses of wine
=4 happy people

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Asian Paradise

Some people may call Asian Paradise an oxymoron.  I can't believe it, but there are real, living and breathing people out there who don't care for Asian food, including anything that resembles sushi. 

I call Asian Paradise the best sushi restaurant I've found in Cincinnati, so far.  Before calling any restaurant "the best", I have to try it at least twice.  Sometimes a restaurant can have a great night by accident, and sometimes it can have a lousy night the same way.  This is based on my second meal there, which was just as delightful as the first.

Asian Paradise is owned and operated by an individual who is clearly dedicated to excellence in the level of food they offer.  They call their product "New York-inspired Asian Fusion", which sounds like an odd combo - don't you think the influence for Asian food should come from Asia?    Whatever, and whereever he finds his inspiration, it works!

Located in little Loveland, Ohio (a suburb of sprawling Cincinnati), it resides in a corner of an unassuming strip mall, a Sassy Moments gym is its western neighbor, and a Lighting Specialist is its other neighbor. Unassuming might be too big of a word to describe the strip mall.  Indistinguishable from any other strip mall might be a better description.  It is really quite ordinary.

But then, you walk through the doors of Asian Paradise, and leave contemporary suburbia behind.  You are greeted by a cute little host or hostess, and given the obligatory smile and swish to a seat.  But the rest of the night goes beyond ordinary.  The restaurant interior is dark: dark walls, dark woods and minimal lighting.  Most of the light comes from the small candles on each table, candle-like sconces on the walls and the bright light from the kitchen.  There are gold Asian letters on the walls, resembling the tattoos so prevalent in the neighborhood malls.  Fortunately, there are no red hanging lanterns or goldfish in aquariums.  The reference to New York inspiration becomes more clear.  This restaurant looks like it belongs in a more cosmopolitan city than little ole Loveland.

We started with a glass of sake.  The waiter recommended I try the chilled version (since it was over 90 degrees outside). It was my first since my return from China, and probably my last til I travel to Japan.  I must report with some sadness, sake and I are not on speaking terms anymore.  Sake is Japan's most famous alcoholic beverage, brewed from a combination of rice and water, then fermented to perfection, or according to my taste buds, some godawful combination of liquified peteroleum gas and ice.  I quickly returned to my typical adult beverage of choice, a lovely red.

On to the real star of the evening - the food.  I had tried steam dumplings for the first time, just a few weeks earlier in Shanghai.  I convinced my guest we should start with the Tuna Dumpling.  He agreed.  Unfortunately, my experience with the sake blurred my vision and I did not read the description of the appetizer very well.  I was expecting some type of pork product, wrapped within a moist rice wrap.  Fortunately, we were pleasantly surprised when our waitress brought us the beautiful Tuna Dumpling appetizer.  It was two dumplings, composed of a spicy tuna, shrimp and kani filling, around which was wrapped the finest, most tender tuna known to mankind, then formed into a typical Asian dumpling shape.  The presentation included a swirl of dipping sauces:  sweet soy, wasaabi and spicy mayo.  Our eyes glistened and lips smacked in unchecked anticipation.  But wait, how to eat such large pieces of food, armed only with our wooden chopsticks?

Not to worry!  I easily picked up my dumpling with my chopsticks, dipped it in the delightful sauce, and began nibbling at a little edge of the wrap.  (I had seen much more difficult dishes attacked in China, so I was fearless regarding how I might look to the rest of the restaurant crowd.)  It worked just fine, until there was less wrap and more filling left.  At that point, I surrendered my dumpling to my plate, and (because the tuna was so tender and so thinly sliced) was able to pick more appropriately sized pieces to fit my mouth.  My, we were off to a delicious start to the evening.  Could they top this appetizer?

When ordering sushi, we can never decide if we order enough.  This night, we decided to "keep it light".  If we wanted more, the kitchen was just over there.  So, to follow our dumpling delight, we ordered the White Tuna Jalapeno Roll, a Spcy Girl Roll and (our must try whenever and wherever we have sushi) their Volcano Roll.  The plate arrived - not a fancy display, but the glowing ice cube added interest.  White Tuna in front, Spicy Girl in the center, and the Volcano Roll surrounds the cube of mysterious light.
I tried the White Tuna Jalapeno Roll first.  The rice was a bit stickier than usual, so two pieces stuck together.  I had to separate them before I could even attempt to eat one.  The jalapeno pepper was crunchy and quite fresh.  After the first bite, I wondered why the roof  of my mouth had lost all feeling.  My date commented, "perhaps it's due to the large amount of jalapeno pepper you just ate."  "Oh right", I replied, still munching happily on the jalapeno.

Oh Spicy Girl, you called me next.  A delightful combo of crunchy spicy tuna and spicy yellowtail, topped with a schmear of crunchy spicy salmon, roe and spicy mayo.  Spicy Girl - go on!

Saved the best for last.  The Volcano Roll typcially contains some combo of crab, shrimp and a spicy mayo.  Usually, it has a cooked component to it, and is served warm.  I have yet to find any restaurant that makes their Volcano Roll exactly like another restaurant.  The Asian Paradise version included crab, shrimp, tuna and they added crisp asparagus for their unique spin on the Volcano Roll.  It was a lovely presentation with the shrimp tempura bursting up and out of the rice, like a volcano shooting lava into the air!  Though not the best Volcano Roll, I would certainly put this up in the top five.

All in all, we had another excellent meal at Asian Paradise.  The seafood was fresh as could be, sliced and served in unique combinations that were true taste ticklers.  On our next visit, we will try one of their non-sushi entrees, and see how they fare.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Wine in Thyme goes International!

Wine in Thyme returned to China in July.  This trip, we were in SE China, primarily Shenzhen and Shanghai (pronounce Shong hi.  Didn't realize I'd been pronouncing it with an Ohio accent all these years).  SE China is much different than Beijing, which is located in the NE of China.  Plus, we were here in July, not February.  Each day it was well over 90 degrees, and the humidity hovered at 90% or more. 

My associate and I took one night off from a traditional Chinese dinner with our Chinese host, and decided to "wing it".  Two crazy Americans alone for the night, ordering off a Chinese menu, and hoping for the best.  It was mid-week and we were feeling comfortable in this foreign country, at least we felt comfortable enough to point at pictures and place an order.  I have to admit, we weren't over adventurous.  We merely took the elevator to the third floor and chose the Chinese restaurant in the hotel:  Qin Yue Xuan.

First things first:
The wine was ordered. 
It arrived standing upright, not sideways as depicted here.  (My apologies, I am having a real difficulty with my images this weekend.)  It was pretty good, for a Chinese wine.  It was mildly spicy with a hint of yeastiness, not exactly what you want in a Cabernet, but I thought I could survive.

The wait staff was quite attentive.  The only other guests in the restaurant were four men, who appeared to be from a Russian or other former Soviet nation.  They spoke in hushed deep voices that resonated nonetheless.

Our waiter pronounced his name "Dream Yang".  Our waitress would not provide her name.

The menu is in Chinese and English.  But the pictures tell the real story.  I thought I would try this Grilled Eel with Gravy.

I can't say that I understood why they wanted their menu to be an interpretation of the road.  It offered "a kind of living embodiment of taste. A kind of quest for quality food."  All I know is, I was NOT going to order anything off this page.  I did not care to try the steamed longsnout catfish or the hot trotter.

 This is their Grilled Eggplant Japanese.  It looked delicious to me, as I love eggplant and really only know two ways to cook it, both involve tomato sauce and Italian seasonings.  So, in addition to the Eel, I ordered eggplant.  Our waiter, Dream Yang, looked at me with surprise, which quickly turned to confusion.  How was he going to politely tell a customer I shouldn't order both?  He called over his waitress to help interpret.  Between the two of them, we settled on a decision.  I would get a little bit of both dishes.  Much success!

Mixed Dragon Fish with Chili - nope, didn't try it.

I did not order the Geoduck Clam Sashimi.  It looked inedible to my American eyes.

Look at this delicious grilled eggplant!  Arrived at the table piping hot.  It was perfectly grilled - a slight crisp on the edges, and a well-cooked meaty interior.  Complemented by the light, sweet ginger brown sauce, with sesame, mild red and green peppers and onion for texture, it was one of the best dishes I ate all week. 
 Look how happy it made our hosts.  They were so pleased with our happiness, they gave us a 4 page questionnaire to complete.  My eel never did show up, but it was just as well.  The eggplant was enough for an entire meal.  I think that's why my waiter was upset - by ordering the eel and the eggplant, I was ordering enough to feed two or three people.  I didn't realize the pictures depicted almost life-size servings.  Stupid fat American.

(I have to apologize one more time for the photos.  I can not get them to come in correctly.)